When the oppressive dog days of summer wheezed into Washington last weekend, Ralph Frampton was planted before the Atlantic Ocean, on sand soft as talcum powder, watching the tip of his surf fishing rod bow to the undertow.
"I don't really expect to catch any fish," said Frampton, 34, a computer systems analyst from Arlington. "But boy, did I pick a great weekend to try."
If ever a Washington weekend deserved escaping to the beach, even at the invariable cost of traffic jams, bridge backups and small-town speed traps, this was one.
The hotter it got here, the more refreshing were the plunges into salt water surf. The sky remained a clear, bright blue. And the ocean breeze never flagged long enough to notice. Incredible as it might sound, there were even a few fish to catch from shore.
Beach fishing in the summer is notoriously bad for catching anything but a sunburn. But because most people vacation then, most anglers spend that time trying to catch monsters from shore. It gives surf fishing a bad name.
"October is a much better month for catching fish here," said Mike Adkins, 28, from Dover, who was throwing a net into Indian River Inlet this weekend trying to trap small bait fish. "But this time of year is better for the sun and the girls."
Summer beach fishing is a time when the sport reaches a social peak. Anglers standing shoulder to shoulder on beaches or rocky jetties assume an automatic camaraderie.
Tangled lines create new friendships and no excuse is needed to offer congratulations or advice.
"I had 15 to 20 people standing around telling me how to hold the net and which way to throw it," said Adkins, whose technique was poor enough that he followed every suggestion. Finally one man gave him advice that actually helped. "He taught me a few tricks," said Adkins, pulling in three small bluefish with his net.
There are two particularly popular places to fish on the Delaware shore. For surf fishermen who like to keep in touch with traditional comforts, there is a stretch of beach between Bethany and Fenwick Island where four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed. On any weekend, you can tour these self-made fishing stations, some as elaborate as any Bedouin camp, to talk fishing.
Another hot spot is Indian River Inlet where the Atlantic creates a fast-moving river in a channel at high and low tide. What makes this area so popular is the easy access afforded by long stone jetties on both sides of the channel. But because the tides are so strong, an angler needs to be either very knowledgeable or very lucky to catch fish there.
"I haven't figured out this inlet yet," said Bill Plattner, a Silver Spring printer who spent most of Friday and all of Saturday casting and retrieving without anything pulling back. "But this is a good excuse to exercise my elbow."
A few hundred yards from Plattner, Charles Walls, 12, and Aron Carrow, 8, were working as a team to tempt flounder.
While Carrow held his creaky rod with both hands, Walls crept to the edge of the rocks to toss hook, line and sinker as far as he could. The technique had not caught any fish, but as Walls explained defensively, "We just got started."
A few rocks away, another couple of anglers seemed ready to concede defeat. "I have been fishing a week and haven't caught a thing; I forget what a fish is supposed to feel like," said Rita Yoder, who was fishing the jetty with her mother Marie Borkowski.
Watching the women fish from a comfortable seat on a flat rock, Harry Greenstreet, a retired steelworker from Baltimore, concluded that their efforts were futile.
"You could stand here and watch them fish all day, and they wouldn't catch anything," said Greenstreet. "They're not using the right tackle. They need a longer leader."
Just seconds later, however, Yoder gave a quick shout as she pulled a bluefish from the water.
Greenstreet said not a word. Immediately he jumped to his feet and volunteered to remove the sharp-toothed fish from the hook.
"That's a good bluefish," Greenstreet said.
"I don't care what kind it is," replied Yoder. "It's a fish."